Approach church with a critical eye

I had not been to church for seven years.

My churchless run broke Sunday when I visited St. John’s Catholic Newman Center.

My new lady friend is big on church, so I figured “why not go with her and give it another shot?”

At times I felt out of place. I knew none of the songs, was always late to stand in my pew and could do nothing but smile and watch as everyone else had their wine and wafer.

I heard the story of Lazarus being brought back to life by Jesus and actually dug most of what the priest had to say in his sermon. A lot of it was inspirational and applicable to my life.

I come from a family whose mother goes to Greek Orthodox Church every Sunday and a father whose go-to line whenever someone invites him to church is: I got a lot of work to do, but put in a good word for me.

I had a bad experience with church when I was little.

As a young teenager, I went through the classic stage of challenging everything, the church included. I did not want to go to church, so my mom cut a deal with me. I would go to confirmation as long as I could go with my best friend at his church.

I was a model student in confirmation class. I asked questions when I did not understand and challenged things that I thought were wrong. Because of this, I routinely was kicked out of class.

I could not understand. I learn through questions and sure as hell am not going to silently accept something I disagree with. Why can’t these old guys help me along?

Looking back, I probably made a few well-meaning men question their own faith. I asked hard questions — but only because the subject matter was hard to grasp. How does God know everything we will do before it happens, and we still have free will? It didn’t add up to me.

I eventually stopped going to the Lutheran Church after I realized its history. The entire church was founded by one of the most radical people history had ever known. Martin Luther had questions and disagreements too. When the church told him to shut up, he did his own thing.

I did too. As a spiritual person, I chose to explore my relationship with a higher power on my own. I would not accept someone else telling me how to frame my personal experience.

Now hear me out, after going to church Sunday, I know the messages of the Bible are inherently free for anyone’s personal interpretation, as is any literary work. But hearing one organized group’s take on a story after so long is bound to mold your own understanding. I choose to avoid this.

I found a reason why during my clueless time looking around the beautiful innards of the church.

One of the big stain glass windows featured a United States flag in a biblical representation. I feel safe assuming no such flag waved in the original event.

What does such an image mean? Combine the political emotions the flag can evoke with the personal feelings of beautiful church artwork, and we have a powerful image. I do not believe such an image should shine into a place of God, who I understand to love all nations equally. Pairing nationalism with faith can lead one down the dangerous road of religious fascism.

I do not know the story behind the U.S. flag window, but I do know that after seeing something long enough, you stop questioning its existence. The same goes for things you hear.

A relationship should always include new questions and challenges. These sacred thoughts lead to greater understanding and communion.

A few days after my church visit, I read something interesting. Jesus was most certainly not white.

It blew my mind. How could I have not realized this long ago? He was born in the Middle East. Just turn on CNN to see what a Middle Eastern looks like.

The European image of Christ is exactly why I stay away from church. I want to create my own reality, not one determined for me.

I may visit church a few more times this semester, but it will be with the same critical eye I cast onto everything else in my life. I hope everyone else I see there will be doing the same.

Phil is a junior in Media.